Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) continues our chess education by focusing on transitioning. Beth Harmon transitions very smoothly from a rook and bishop to a won bishop of opposite colors chess endgame.
Bishops of opposite color endgames have the reputation of being drawish. Beth Harmon knew enough about endgames to know she would win this one.
Knowing your endgames allows you to transition from the middlegame to a favorable endgame.
Take a look at her precise play against Giev. The position shown in this video by NM Fer Broca is the one where play resumed after an adjournment.
Endgame Mastery is Essential to Winning at Chess
Arguably the greatest endgame player of all time, Jose Raul Capablanca had the following to say:
“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.”
This is sound advice yet many chess players, especially at the club level, neglect the study of chess endgames. Instead, they focus almost exclusively on the opening and middlegame.
Perhaps Giev, in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix), was among the many who need to take their endgame play up a notch.
Follow the example set by Beth in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix). You will turn many a lost game into a draw and some equal positions into wins.
When you find yourself with a slight advantage in the middlegame, it’s often easier to convert the win in the endgame. Using this tactic means knowing how to convert the endgame.
Does your opponent have the advantage? Look to see if you can transition to an endgame you know how to draw.
If you want to dive in the subtleties of transitioning from middlegame to endgame now, check out this course:
Different Types of Endgames
There are two types of endgames:
- Theoretical endgames.
- Practical endgames.
Theoretical endgames are those others have already solved for you. Two of the most famous involving rook endgames are the Lucena and Philidor.
Practical endgames have little theory because there are usually more pieces on the board. In these endgames, it’s essential to know the guiding principles of endgame play.
Always keep in mind these guiding principles are not hard and fast rules. Double-check what you’ve learned against the position on the board.
Playing many endgames slowly is usually a good approach. This strategy will likely lose you the game if you apply it in a pawn race.
Transitioning to the Endgame
Piece exchanges are irreversible and can have a significant impact on the course of the game. No more so than in the endgame.
How to make a correct transition from middlegame to endgame, then?
This video by GM Bryan Smith covers that very topic:
When the material is already very low it’s critically important to get piece exchanges correct. There’s nothing you can do after swapping off rooks only to realize the pawn ending is lost.
Take a look at this example:
Black chose to transition into this pawn endgame. Unfortunately, with the pawn on a2, white is winning. If the pawn were on a3 or a5, the game would be a draw.
Initiative is Important in the Endgame
Many chess players know the importance of having the initiative in the opening and middlegame. Yet, they seldom think of it being a factor in the endgame.
The initiative is a dynamic advantage, not a static one. Follow the advice of the first world chess champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, and use this dynamic advantage before you lose it.
Creating threats is the perfect way to keep the initiative longer. The more time your opponent spends reacting to your plans, the less he has to implement his plan.
Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a pawn to get the initiative. You might also play another sacrifice later to help keep the initiative on your side.
Yes, having the initiative is that important.
Minor Piece Endgames
Since a bishop and knight are each worth three points, you’d think a bishop versus a knight endgame must be equal.
This way of thinking doesn’t allow for the difference in mobility between the pieces. On an open board with pawns on both flanks, the bishop is the better piece.
Make use of this imbalance to enter endgames which favor your minor piece.
If you have a knight, look to create a position where time isn’t a factor. Given enough time, a knight can cover every square on the board.
A single bishop can only cover half of the board. Beth made use of this very well in her game against Giev.
Knights like outposts in all phases of the game. The square in front of an isolated pawn is an ideal outpost for a knight.
Make Use of Strategic Sacrifices
Playing an exchange sacrifice in the endgame requires strong calculation skills and good chess intuition. Both of these skills develop as you gain more experience from playing games.
The exchange sacrifice is played more frequently in chess today. Still, it’s hard for some players to accept a material imbalance that favors their opponent.
Intuition is needed because you can’t always calculate every line to the end of the game. The more you practice, the sooner you will get a feel for a particular variation or sacrifice.
Before playing the exchange sacrifice, consider how many open files there are. If your minor piece can block the only open file, an exchange sacrifice will likely get you an advantage.
An active knight is much more preferable to an inactive rook.
Accept you might need to play a long endgame to convert the advantage. In the endgame, an exchange sacrifice is usually played for a long-term positional advantage.
In this episode of “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix), we saw the power of two outside connected passed pawns. They were unstoppable even with opposite-color bishops on the board.
These are the most challenging endgames because they often require accurate and lengthy calculations.
Good knowledge of theoretical pawn endings will help you a lot in practical pawn endings.
Make sure to learn about triangulation and the opposition. If you know your theoretical endgames, you can shorten the amount of calculation you need to do.
All you need to calculate is how to reach a theoretically won position. You don’t have to calculate all the way to the end of the game.
Since all the other pieces have been exchanged, you need to make active use of your king.
Be careful when advancing your pawns. They can’t move backward, and only your king can defend the weak squares behind them.
This is not the position you want to be in. The side with the more active king has a significant advantage.
These are the most common endgames. Playing practical rook endings is much easier if you have studied the theoretical rook endgames. The Lucena and Philidor endings are must know theoretical endgames.
As with other endgames, the three critical factors to look at are:
- piece activity,
- king activity,
- and pawn structure.
In rook endings, you can consider sacrificing a pawn for a more active rook. Especially if it’s a pawn that hasn’t advanced yet.
Advanced pawns in a rook ending can make up for a material deficit. Your opponent won’t have time to advance his pawns if he is busy trying to stop yours from promoting.
Final Thoughts on Transitions in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)
When you have an advantage, it’s good to look for ways to transition to an endgame where it has more impact.
In the middlegame, your opponent has more pieces to stop your pawns from advancing. If you know you will have an advantage in the endgame, you know exchanges will favor you.
Transitioning means having faith in your abilities to convert your advantage and your calculation skills.
When you have calculated that you are exchanging one advantage for another it makes the decision easier.
“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) often shows us important chess concepts by watching somebody go wrong. Giev would have survived longer if he’d avoided the exchange of rooks.
Make certain you devote time to learning the endgame and come out on the winning side like Beth.
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